Chen Yi’s footsteps echoed throughout the empty hallway in speedy movements leading toward the last, empty classroom down the right. It was half past four, and he was an hour late to pick up his son, Chen Yuan.
He had promised Yuan he wouldn’t be late this time. Unfortunately, like the weeks before, he did not keep his promise. He didn’t mean to; he lost track of time. Despite doing his best to support both him and Yuan, Yi knew he had failed as a father. He made excuses, blaming his work as being too much of a burden when work shouldn’t be an issue, considering he lived among the higher-ups… Was the boss of his own hotel firm: China Tower. Yuan never complained, though. How could he? The child was only seven.
As he made it near the door, Yi paused. The briefcase he was holding slipped past his fingers. His feet came to an instant stop, and his heart began pounding past his chest, making him unable to breathe.
He heard something coming from inside Yuan’s classroom. Something he thought he’d never hear again. A laugh – a musical one at that, buried in his childhood but not forgotten. Yi knew to whom it belonged. He heard that laugh countless times before, and he could hear it countless more without ever feeling bored. Li Xian – Xian-Xian. That laugh, dancing of blissful energy belonged to Li Xian. His Li Xian.
Yi peeked through the door, seeing Li Xian, back turned facing the blackboard, scribbling away nonsense with Yuan to gain a little laughter from the child making Yi’s breath hitch.
It had been so long, sixteen years to be exact, since he last saw Li Xian on that cloud-filled day. Yi never would’ve thought they would stumble upon each other, though he hoped one day he would get to see Li Xian’s face again.
They were children – only sixteen when Li Xian moved away abroad. His uncle, a kind – all smiling gentleman, wanted Li Xian and his younger stepbrother, Li Tang, to further their studies in a more advanced English-speaking country, despite China being advanced enough. Though seeing Li Xian as a primary school teacher, Yi figured his studies must’ve not paid off the way his uncle probably hoped for.
A dark, frightening smile crept up on Yi’s face… He was glad.
He and Li Xian practically grew up together despite them coming from different backgrounds. By chance, they went to the same kindergarten. Like now, back then, Yi had always been a distant child. Never one to talk or mingle with crowds. He kept to himself, even at a young age. Most people presumed it might be because he was an alpha. Then again, most alphas his age only cared about playing in the school’s backyard with other children. When the alpha trait made little sense, they then assumed he was just stuck-up because he came from a rich family.
The truth: at that age Yi wanted friends, but the other children always picked on him for being a snob, for choosing his coloring books over getting dirty in the school’s mud ponds. He wasn’t a snob, but he wasn’t a bother either, so he remained friendless.
His big brother, Chen Bo, tried to keep him company, but Chen Bo was older, so their schedule in school didn’t match up. However, in his second year in kindergarten, Li Xian, a bubbly omega child, got transferred and changed Yi’s life forever.
In school, Li Xian might’ve pestered him all day. Messed up his colored coordinated crayons and purposefully painted their coloring book characters in the wrong colors. But during playtime, Li Xian would also follow him around like a lost puppy. And at lunchtime, he shared his junk food with him, despite Yi’s protest. So, gradually they became friends for the rest of kindergarten and remained so when they moved on to primary school.
However, things hit differently in middle school. Yi moved to be homeschooled, and Li Xian went on making new friends. At the time, he didn’t know what jealously meant. Or he did. Yi just never felt he would be one to be jealous. But whenever he saw Li Xian playing with the other kids, especially Nie Hao and Wen Xiao, his little fists clenched, and his pout grew a size double.
Back then, Yi realized something. He liked Li Xian.
The sudden spike of feelings made sense, considering he was an alpha and Li Xian was an omega. He vowed once they finished high school, he would ask Li Xian to marry him and be his mate. They would get to spend the rest of their lives together and bear many children. He even told his big brother about his plans. However, Yi didn’t expect his plan to backfire when Li Xian came to him with bad news about moving away.
Since Li Xian’s departure, the days felt longer, and the nights were colder.
They made promises they would keep in touch, and they did. For a time, which was. But life happened and the everyday nighttime calls turned into once-a-week calls. Then once a month, then once a year… Until it gradually ended.
It felt like forever. Only two years ago, he searched for Li Xian. Though his searches ended in a dead end, he never truly gave up. Though Yi could not see his face, Li Xian still appeared youthful. His hips got wider and his waist thinner. He got taller, his hair longer, and his voice softer. But his laugh stayed the same. After so many lonesome years, his omega had returned. Yi could hear the wedding bells and the pitter-patter of Yuan’s future siblings, and –
Just then, a thought hit Yi, crushing his imagination into tiny fragments of nothingness. It had been sixteen years and things must’ve changed. Had Li Xian gotten married off to some unworthy alpha and had children of his own?
The thought that Li Xian – his Xian-Xian, had someone to go home to when the day was over – someone to share his burdens with, his joys with, his bed with, caused Yi’s stomach to boil with a fit of newfound jealousy, much greater than his childhood days.
“Yuan,” Yi spoke for the very first time.His eyes, however, never strayed away from Li Xian.
When the omega turned around, his eyes of melted silver grew ten times over from seeing Yi.
Yi unknowingly growled. A small, almost soundless growl, but a growl, nonetheless. Li Xian turned out to be such a delightfully tempting package in more ways than one. Just the sight of him did things to Yi’s insides. He couldn’t believe his Xian-Xian could be more beautiful. But those cherry lips and loose bangs proved otherwise.
Li Xian hadn’t been marked, either. He must’ve been single, and even if he wasn’t Yi didn’t care because the omega’s neck lay bare and unclaimed, ready for the taking.
Yi vowed this time he would not let Li Xian slip away that easily… Or at all.
Yi could see himself sinking his teeth against his Xian-Xian’s creamy flesh, whether or not his Xian-Xian wanted it. He felt his canines slipping past his lips. If it wasn’t for Yuan sitting in the room, yelling out his name while waving a paper boat in the air, Yi might’ve already pounced upon the omega like a raving beast.
“Chen – Chen Yi?” Li Xian took two steps forth, squinting his eyes and chuckling in disbelief. “Is that you?”
“Xian-Xian,” Yi greeted. A small – non-visible smile formed on his lips.
Had Li Xian already forgotten what he looked like?
“Chen Yi-Yi!” Li Xian threw himself into Yi’s arms. An unexpected embrace that shocked Yuan as much as it did Yi.
Closing his eyes, he ignored all about Yuan tugging at his trousers as he wrapped his arms around Li Xian and inhaled the sweet scent of springtime perfume his Xian-Xian always wore since they were children. That scent once caused his nostrils to itch… Not anymore.
When Li Xian pulled apart, Yi felt the same sense of emptiness he’d been walking around with for the past sixteen years. And though he might’ve wanted to drag Li Xian back home and lock him away forever, he knew he needed to behave rationally, especially when being around his son.
However, Li Xian came back, and this time Yi intended on keeping him here for good, even if that meant he had to quench his thirst for later and act innocent in Li Xian’s presence.
“I – Um,” Yi stammered. Not finding the proper words, he shifted his sight from Li Xian to Yuan – still tugging along the lines of his trousers, then back at Li Xian. Yi swallowed. “What are you doing here?”
“Could you believe it, I work here,” Li Xian beamed. “I started just today. Who would’ve thought that I’d bump into you? Wait. What are you doing here?”
Yi glanced down. Patting Yuan on the head, he said, “I’m sorry for coming in late, I didn’t realize the time, and work – “He beckoned toward Yuan with his hand. “Um, thank you for staying back and keeping an eye on him. It won’t happen again.” Despite it having been happening every day, Yi wanted to add.
“Ah, it’s no biggie. I’m a teacher, that’s what I’m supposed to do. Not that I have a choice.” Li Xian waved his hands in the air jokingly. “It’s a good thing I like children – wait.” Li Xian arched an eyebrow as his mouth fell wide open. Pointing toward Yuan, “Is Yuan your son?” He asked in disbelief.
Li Xian looked almost disappointed as he eyed Yi’s unmarked neck, possibly looking for a potential mating mark, but upon seeing none, he sighed. “Oh, I see.” Li Xian winked, bumping shoulders against Yi’s own and chuckling hysterically. “A player, huh Yi-Yi?”
Although the tip of Yi’s ears burned bright red at their childhood nickname, he couldn’t deny the unease he felt. How could Li Xian view him as a flirt, when all he’d ever wanted was Li Xian and Li Xian alone?
Should he tell him Yuan was adopted? It was not necessarily a first-timer conversation people have, but if Wei Wuxian thought that of him, he would definitely distance himself. Yi could not have that.
“Xian-Xian,” he leaned near Li Xian’s ear, not wanting his son to hear. “I adopted Yuan. I – um – I don’t have a – how’s life been for you?”
God, that felt awkward and so-so wrong on many levels. He was most definitely the world’s worst father.
“Ohhh,” Li Xian beamed, smiling brightly down at Yuan. He seemed to have gotten the memo that Yi was unmated, good. “Ugh, I came back. What can I say? I got homesick. Anyway, my brother’s still living abroad, yeah.” Li Xian dragged a hand over his face, ending the conversation about his family.
“Forget about me. Yi, you look great! You must be a real lady’s man, huh Yi-Yi? I can’t believe I’m meeting you again, after all these years I thought you might’ve climbed the bigger ladder by now – be one of those fancy big shots living the high life… But look at you…” He poked at Yi’s red tie. “You’re like me – anyway, how’s your brother?”
Li Xian sounded embarrassed about his job. Though there was nothing he should be embarrassed about, Yi knew why he must’ve felt the way he did. No one studied abroad for so many years only to return home working an eight to four in an underpaid job.
“Brother and I took over father’s firm… The hotels… Years ago. How long have you been back in Beijing?” Yi felt weird bringing up what he did when Li Xian was obviously uncomfortable in the whole job department. He never expected a conversation could be so awkward when they were once best friends.
“Ohh,” Li Xian’s shoulders drop. “About a month ago. Plenty has changed since I was here.”
A month! An entire month went by, and he didn’t have the audacity to visit Yi. Did their friendship mean nothing? Yi’s right eye twitched, but he hummed. “Hmm,” disappointed.
“Dada,” Yuan whined as he continued tugging against Yi’s trousers while making grabby hands. “I want to go home.”
Yi sighed and picked up Yuan. He wasn’t ready to go home, not yet anyway. But seeing Yuan’s little yawns and pouty lips, he knew there was only so much patience a tired child could take.
As Li Xian stood, for a moment, the bubbly facade that Yi first saw seemed to have vanished, leaving behind an empty shell. Li Xian searched the four color-coated walls inside the classroom, unwilling to look Yi in the eye. Lan Wangji figured he needed to change that.
All those years apart might’ve been lost. They might be adults now, but they were no strangers. Therefore, they shouldn’t be acting like one. Even though they’re both unmated, even though he was an alpha, and Li Xian was an Omega – Omega! That’s right!
So that was what kept stifling at his nose. It was Li Xian’s natural omega scent. It was a wonder the school board even allowed an unmated omega to work without using suppressants, so much could go wrong. Yi figured he needed to have a talk with Li Xian about walking around without using suppressants.
Did Li Xian not notice the attention he was drawing? Did he not care? Did he like the attention? Yi growled. A low stifle growl that couldn’t be heard, but a growl, nonetheless.
“Xian-Xian,” he spoke, resting Yuan’s head on his shoulder. A mere act to calm his flaring insides from exploding. “I’m glad that you’re back. And I’m glad that you’re the one who’s teaching Yuan. You aren’t leaving again, are you?”
Yi had to ask, he just had to. He needed a recurrence so that Li Xian wouldn’t run away from him again. His hardened heart and aching soul couldn’t take it for a second time. He might snap and do something he would come to regret.
Li Xian chuckled, finding humor in Yi’s sudden curiosity. “Ah Yi.” he stepped forth, ruffling Yuan’s hair. “Did you miss me that much?” He joked. “I’m not going anywhere, anytime soon.”
“Did you not miss me?” Yi asked.
“Obviously you big Fuddy-Duddy! How could I not?” Li Xian beamed.
Because I haven’t heard from you since you went away, Yi wanted to add. Instead, he said, “That’s good. I –”
There was so much more he wanted to say. So many things needed saying. As he took another sniff at the air, inhaling Li Xian’s scent of caramel, and cinnamon, Yi thought it would be best if he’d just leave. If he didn’t, Yuan’s innocence might be tarnished from what he would witness if Yi had his way with the pretty omega.
“Li Xian,” he said. “Can I have your number? I can call you tonight. We can catch up and talk about old times.”
Those simple words alone somehow forced a bit lighter through Li Xian’s eyes. Eagerly he replied, “Yes, of course! You want me to write it down for you?”
Before Yi could reply, Li Xian already grabbed a notepad from his desk, scribbling away numbers in the same unreadable handwriting he had since he was a child. Li Xian’s eager response gave Yi some hope that perhaps the omega indeed missed him more than he let out. That was good.
“Here you go,” Li Xian beamed brightly, and God Yi couldn’t get over his beauty. “And, maybe I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Of course,” Yi replied. He wouldn’t miss it for the world. At least now he would finally be on time to pick up Yuan from school. “Are you going home now? Do you want me to wait for you? I can drive you home if you like. Where do you live?”
“Oh no no,” Li Xian waved his hands in the air. “That won’t be necessary. I still have work to do. You go, take Yuan home. Look, he’s already asleep,” Li Xian pointed, giggling. So adorable.
“Hmm,” Yi hummed in understanding, desperately trying to stifle the sweet scent of omega pheromones. “I’ll do that then. Goodbye Li Xian.”
“Ba-Bye Yi-Yi,” Li Xian waved his hand in the air. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yes, tomorrow,” Yi smiled.
Yi covered his nose while dragging his feet past the door, it took everything within him to resist turning back and kiss his Xian-Xian as hard as he could. But it was okay, he would have his chance. He would be back tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, and the day after, until Li Xian belonged to him.
And if Li Xian refused – well, Yi hoped it wouldn’t turn sour. If it did, he had ways. It might not be pleasant, but beneficial, nonetheless.
As he walked across the parking lot with Yuan half-asleep in his arms, arriving next to his parked car, Yi figured that tying Li Xian inside his basement would be the wrong move. He didn’t have to go that far. Then again, what if his pretty omega would refuse him?
Oh well, whatever happened, happened.
Li Xian pulled behind the curtain, gazing out the classroom window, intensively watching as Chen Yi’s car disappeared past the afternoon sunset.
When he was sure his childhood crush had completely vanished from view Chen Yi took a turn past the cross street where the cherry tree blossomed during springtime, Li Xian grabbed his backpack off the desk, wiped the bubbling sweat off his forehead, and dashed out the school compound.
He’d done it again.
Like many days since Li Xian came back to Beijing, he had forgotten to take his suppressants. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
A common mistake that most omegas made, but Li Xian had been making them far too often and the school board wouldn’t take too kindly to him if one day some snobby parent decided to report him for indecent misconduct of stinking up the classroom with his disgusting omega pheromones.
As he skipped through the streets under the dull afternoon street lamps, Li Xian hailed down a bus to take him back home. And despite the lusty stares from alphas who intentionally bumped into him inside the cramped-up bus, none dared touch him. He felt at ease knowing even if they did, he could easily defend himself considering he’d taken years of self-defense training abroad with his brother. He wasn’t some weak, and fragile omega.
Still, all in all, Li Xian figured the unwanted contact beat Chen Yi’s offer to take him home. Chen Yi’s car would’ve been faster, and his company would’ve been refreshing, but the way Chen Yi had been eyeing him like a piece of arm candy the entire time made their first encounter awkward, being former friends and all.
But considering he was an alpha, Li Xian understood why Chen Yi must’ve appeared uneasy being around him. Poor Yi-Yi, he thought. His needy scent was literally drenching the classroom.
Although Li Xian wouldn’t mind being riled by his former best friend, he wouldn’t dare do anything to tarnish his friendship with Chen Yi. It was a pity Yi-Yi was a man of morals.
Gosh, Chen Yi must’ve thought of him as some thirsty omega who used his scent as a means to get whatever he wanted from strange young alphas. Or perhaps Chen Yi thought of him turning out to be some cheap omega-whore? That would be a bummer.
As soon as he’d gotten home, Li Xian raced toward his bedroom, where he rummaged through the nightstand, searching for the small pill bottle. When he found it, he quickly swallowed down one of the gel capsules before collapsing on the bed, utterly exhausted from the day’s work.
He was not going into heat; he knew that because he’d gone through a recent heat just a week before he was scheduled to start teaching. A painfully horrible one at that.
It wouldn’t be another three months until the next one would arrive, and he would have to ask for a leave from work. Given the past sixteen years of being separated from Chen Yi, it was only during times like those, when he was withering away under the bedsheets, did Li Xian’s former best friend usually came to mind. Strange, right?
Speaking of Yi-Yi, why hadn’t he texted yet?
Li Xian fetched his phone out of his pocket and began rummaging through, searching for any messages. Unfortunately, no strange number popped up. Chen Yi must’ve changed his mind. No, that couldn’t be it. He was probably busy taking care of Yuan. Who would’ve thought the stoned-faced Yi-Yi would even entertain the idea of adopting a child?
Hours later when Li Xian was about to call it quits for the night, the phone vibrated with a “Good night, Xian-Xian,” text from no other than Chen Yi.
If it wasn’t for the tenants next door, Li Xian would’ve squealed like a teenage girl who had finally received a text from her high school sweetheart. Instead, like the grown-up he forced himself to be, Li Xian calmed his racing heart and replied, “Yi-Yi! Good night.”
And not a minute later, another message popped up from Chen Yi. “Sorry for the late reply, I had to put Yuan to bed.”
Li Xian smiled. Of course! Chen Yi, not replying was all in his head.
As his fingers worked through the buttons, Li Xian sent another text, and another, and another, and another.
Back and forth they went until two a.m. arrived.
Chen Yi was the one who called it quits, claiming Li Xian needed sleep if he intended to stay beautiful. Li Xian wasn’t sure if Yi-Yi was flirting with him. But Yi-Yi was not the flirty type, so it must’ve probably been just a friendly compliment.
Still, Li Xian didn’t expect to blush as much as he did when Chen Yi called him beautiful, but the amount of blood rushing toward his head was undeniable. So, he listened, and went to sleep, wanting to remain beautiful in Chen Yi’s eyes. Surely Yi-Yi would notice.
Well, Li Xian hoped so.